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A’s impressive future will be on display throughout the minor leagues

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			A’s impressive future will be on display throughout the minor leagues

The emerging talents of the Oakland A’s will be on full display this season —you’ll just have to catch glimpses on ballfields in Nashville, Stockton and Midland, Texas, rather than at the Coliseum.

Some plane trips to Beloit, Wis., Burlington, Vt, and Mesa, Ariz., might also be in order.

No, these A’s you’ll watch in Oakland most of the season won’t remotely resemble the A’s you’re likely see two years from now, when the club’s rebuilding-from-within strategy takes sharper focus.

But with Major League Baseball phasing out Oakland’s revenue sharing safety net over the next four years, there is even more pressure on the A’s to start phasing in their young talent. (Just in case back-to-back seasons of 94 and 93 losses aren’t enough motivation.)

The good news for those wary of Billy Beane trading away past top prospects: That’s far less likely with the current up-and-comers.

Longtime A’s fans understand the cyclical nature of their franchise, which rather remarkably has followed up-and-down periods of 3-6 years dating back to the mid-1970s. Most prognosticators project 2017 will be Year 3 of the current down cycle, but it could also be the year that things start to turn for the better.

So which current A’s are likely to still be A’s in 2019?

Starting pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea figure to be two, and if 2016 midseason acquisition Jharel Cotton makes this year’s rotation — which was looking very likely in spring training — he’d be a third.

Shortstop Marcus Semien isn’t free agent-eligible until 2021, so he’s a good bet to stick around. Infielder Ryon Healy, catcher Bruce Maxwell and reliever Ryan Dull also should figure prominently in the future.

Beyond that? While the A’s would surely love to lock up Sonny Gray longterm if he could deliver a bounce-back year, the financial considerations are real. He’ll have just two years of team control remaining, and with good young pitching prospects in the pipeline, Gray could be a valuable trade chip.

The real question, though: Who are the A’s fixtures of the future? In case you’re not willing to shell out for sticky summer road trips to nowhere, we’ve done a little advance scouting for you.

Matt Chapman, 3B

The A’s are in no rush to start the major league clock on their potential Gold Glove candidate who possesses the power to be a consistent 25-30 home run hitter … and possibly more. When they do call him up, it will be to stay for at least the next five years.

Chapman might have the organization’s most natural power stroke since Mark McGwire. He hit a combined 36 homers between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville last year. The downside is his strikeout total (173) and his batting average (.237), but an .847 OPS will play in the big leagues even with those kinds of negative numbers.

Likely 2017 spot: Nashville

When we’ll see him in Oakland: September, but possibly earlier

Franklin Barreto, 2B/SS

The second key piece acquired in the Josh Donaldson trade along with Graveman, Barreto just turned 21 and is almost major-league ready. If Chapman has comparability to Eric Chavez, then Barreto leans toward Miguel Tejada, an offensive-minded middle infielder who still needs some work on his defense.

Barreto made major strides in that department in 2016. After making 34 errors at shortstop in just 86 games for Class A Stockton in 2015, he made just 15 in 85 games at short and only four in 33 more games at second, split between Midland and Nashville last season.

On offense, he’s the total package — power, speed and average — and again, he just turned 21. He gives management some options, too, due to his ability to play the outfield.

Likely 2017 spot: Nashville

When we’ll see him in Oakland: September, perhaps sooner

Matt Olson, 1B/OF

It seems like he’s been in the pipeline for a long time, and he has — five years. But Olson signed out of high school at 18 and just turned 23 at the end of March. After posting eye-popping numbers at Class A Stockton in 2014 — 37 homers and a .404 on-base — his production numbers have slowed. But he’s still been solid: 17 homers and 30-plus doubles each of the last two seasons at AA and AAA.

Even though he hit under .250 both years, his healthy walk totals bolster his promise. The real key will be making a full-time conversion to the outfield, where he has the best shot at making the major league club long term, and improving his hitting against left-handed pitching.

Likely 2017 spot: Nashville

When we’ll see him in Oakland: September, but perhaps not until 2018 or ’19 full-time

Frankie Montas, RHP

The A’s may have hit on this prospect vagabond at the right moment. Montas, just 23, has already been part of three prior organizations, primarily as a starter. But with a fastball that has been clocked in triple digits, it seems a no-brainer that he could become a future formidable set-up man and possibly a closer for Oakland.

A rib injury kept him out of action when he was acquired from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick-Rich Hill deal, but he was electric in the Arizona Fall League out of the bullpen, posting an 0.53 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 17 innings. (He also had five strikeouts in three innings of the league’s title game.) The key for Montas will be staying healthy.

Likely 2017 spot: Nashville

When we’ll see him in Oakland: Possibly by mid-summer, almost certainly by 2018

A.J. Puk, LHP

It remains to be seen how fast a track the top 2016 draft pick (sixth overall) will travel, but early returns have suggested it could be as swift as Gray, who only spent 2½ seasons in the minors before he was pitching in Oakland.

Puk is only 21, but he has shown a maturity beyond his years both in terms of makeup and pitch repertoire to go with mid-90s velocity. He passed all the tests in short-season Class A ball last summer in Vermont and got his feet wet in major league camp as a non-roster invitee.

Likely 2017 spot: Stockton

When we’ll see in him in Oakland: At some point in 2019

Grant Holmes, RHP

The third piece in the trade with the Dodgers along with Jharel Cotton and Montas, Holmes just turned 21 on March 22, so he’s still very young despite three years of minors experience. He struggled at Stockton after the trade, but he has a live arm with a decent supplementary arsenal and once he can command it all, he’s projected to be a possible No. 2 or 3 starter.

Likely 2017 spot: Stockton

When we’ll see him in Oakland: At some point in 2019

Lazaro Armenteros, OF

The 17-year-old Cuban prodigy the A’s signed to a $3 million bonus last July. “Lazarito,” as he is best known, has already received Willie Mays/Bo Jackson/Bryce Harper name-drops due to his combination of power, speed and throwing arm.

He also has a bold vision: “I want to make it to the Hall of Fame, have my number retired, and when I’m out of the game, for people to recognize the person I am. Even when I die, I don’t want my name to ever die.”

OK, yes, you’d be wise to pay special attention to where this young man lands and how he performs. Could be worth the wait.

Likely 2017 spot: Arizona Rookie League

When we’ll see him in Oakland: 2020 … hopefully

Mystery Player

The A’s will once again have the No. 6 pick in the June amateur draft and should land a premium talent at that spot.

Since there is so much difference of opinion about the top of the 2017 draft, it’s difficult to project who might be available, but you can bet Oakland likes the possibilities of Louisville’s Brendan McKay, a college two-way star who projects as a potential star major-league first baseman as well as a prospective left-handed starting pitcher. Remember, Sean Doolittle was once drafted as a first baseman.

Likely 2017 spot: Burlington, Vt. (short-season Class A)

When we’ll see him in Oakland: 2019 or 2020

The ‘others’

Quick hits on other notable prospects:

Renato Nunez, 1B/3B: Power potential, still young, but lacking a firm defensive position. Likely 2017 spot: Nashville.

Richie Martin, SS: Superior defensive shortstop and 2015 first-round pick has struggled offensively so far in A’s system. Likely 2017 spot: Midland.

Raul Alcantara, RHP: Had a September trial with the A’s but showed he’s still a bit raw. Likely 2017 spot: Nashville.

Daulton Jefferies, RHP: Former Cal star and 2016 second-round pick has all the tools if he can avoid injury. Likely 2017 spot: Vermont.

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